The Falcons waged a fierce battle against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs before succumbing 17-14 before 13,470 fans Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Dynamic quarterback Patrick Mahomes tossed a 25-yard touchdown strike to Demarcus Robinson with 1:55 to play to lift the Chiefs to victory. The Falcons responded and were in position to force overtime, but newly minted Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo, who’d made 27 straight field-goal attempts, missed a potential game-tying 39-yard field with 9 seconds left.
“The great teams find ways to make plays at the end,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said.
Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell soared high and got both hands on a possible interception in the end zone in the closing minutes, but he couldn’t control the ball after hitting the ground. If he squeezes that one, Kansas City’s game-winning drive would have been stopped.
“We are not satisfied with playing a close, good game,” Terrell said. “We want to win.”
The Chiefs, who clinched the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs, improved to 14-1, while the Falcons dropped to 4-11. It was the Falcons’ seventh loss of six points or less this season.
Before this game, Kansas City’s lowest output was 23 points — a 23-20 win Sept. 20 over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Ryan completed 27 of 35 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 121.1. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley had five catches for 130 yards receiving.
Mahomes completed 24 of 44 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 79.5.
“We definitely kept him moving around,” Falcons Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We forced some incomplete passes. Interceptions. Had a couple hits. It definitely felt good to be able to affect him.”
Here are the five things we learned from the defeat:
1. Terrell’s non interception? After the Chiefs took a 10-7 lead on a 53-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, the offense went on the move.
Ryan droved the Falcons down to the fringes of the red zone when wide receiver Brandon Powell, while fighting for extra yards, fumbled. Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay knocked the ball off Powell. Kansas City’s Darius Harris recovered the fumble to stop the promising drive.
After forcing a punt, the Falcons recaptured the lead on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Ryan tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to put the Falcons up 14-10.
On the ensuing Chiefs drive, Terrell nearly made a play for the ball in the end zone, but he did not control the ball after hitting the ground.
“I came down with it,” Terrell said. “The ground just (knocked) it loose.”
The Falcons challenged the call, but the play was not overturned.
“It was too big of a play not to challenge,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “Ultimately, I had to make the decision on my own right there and I did. I went for the challenge to try and see what New York (the league office) says.”
On the next play, cornerback Kendall Sheffield was torched by Robinson for the would-be winning touchdown.
The offense drove down to field-goal range, but Koo’s kick sailed outside the goal post.
2. Ridley breaks loose: Ridley broke loose for a 54-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter to set the Falcons up in the red zone.
Two plays later, tight end Hayden Hurst powered into the end zone from 6 yards out on a shovel pass from Ryan.
It was Ridley’s league-leading eighth game of 100-plus yards receiving this season. He pulled away from Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, who has seven games of 100 yards receiving or more.
Ridley has set career highs with 82 catches for 1,322 yards this season. He also has nine touchdown receptions.
Ridley’s streak of three games in a row with a touchdown catch was snapped. It was Ridley’s fourth game in a row with at least 100 yards receiving.
3. Oluokun’s big stop. After the score was tied 7-7 at halftime, the Chiefs moved the ball down the field via the run on their opening drive of the third quarter.
On third down-and-goal from the Falcons’ 7 yard line, linebacker Foye Oluokun intercepted a pass intended for Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and returned it 52 yards to Kansas City’s 48-yard line.
Chiefs’ speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill chased down Oluokun and punched the ball loose. It rolled out of bounds.
The revamped offensive line gave up two sacks and on third-and-22 the Falcons just tossed a short pass underneath.
After the potential game-changing play, the Falcons went three-and-out and punted.
There was an exchange of punts with the Chiefs getting the ball back with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Strong safety Keanu Neal also intercepted a Sammy Lee Watkins pass intended for Mahomes in the second quarter on a fourth-and-1 play. Neal was not fooled by the razzle-dazzle play.
“He made a great play on the ball,” Terrell said.
4. Juggled offensive line: With Alex Mack out (concussion), the Falcons started Matt Hennessy at center and Matt Gono at left guard.
Gono had played well at right tackle for Kaleb McGary when he missed the two previous games for a family/personal emergency. With McGary back, Gono replaced Justin McCray, who had started for the injured James Carpenter, at left guard.
Gono and right guard Chris Lindstrom had some rough battles with Chiefs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones, who dominated the line of scrimmage.
Hennessy had a center snap infraction and a holding penalty on the same drive in the third quarter. The drive stalled and the Falcons were forced to punt with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Hennessy had a holding call to negate a good run by Ito Smith in the fourth quarter. Ryan completed a 31-yard pass to Ridley on the next play to bail out Hennessy.
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark also beat Gono on a fourth quarter rush.
The Chiefs finished with four sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
5. Rushing attack. The Falcons’ game plan called for them to run the ball in order to use the clock and keep the dangerous Mahomes off the field.
Through three quarters, the Falcons ran the ball 19 times and attempted 16 passes.
Smith was the top rusher for the Falcons with 10 carries for 46 yards. Brian Hill added seven attempts for 36 yards.
Todd Gurley, four rushes for 16 yards, was used mostly on third downs.
The three backs combined to rush 21 times for 98 yards for a respectable 4.6 yards per carry.
The Falcons won time of possession 33:12 to 26:48.
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